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Ahead of Sunday's Grammy Awards, women dominate nominations for biggest categories

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

What do these artists have in common - Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Jon Batiste, SZA and Olivia Rodrigo?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VAMPIRE")

OLIVIA RODRIGO: (Singing) I've made some real big mistakes, but you make the worst one look fine. I should've known it was strange.

SHAPIRO: Well, besides being major pop stars, they are all nominated in the album, song and record of the year categories of this year's Grammy Awards. The awards are on Sunday night, and so let's take a closer look at those major categories in the Grammys with NPR Music's Ann Powers. Hi there.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hello, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with record of the year. Are there some consensus favorites for the award?

POWERS: Well, you know, it's quite an even playing field this year. Everyone in this category is a consensus favorite, I would say, but Billie Eilish might have the juice behind her with "What Was I Made For?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT WAS I MADE FOR?")

BILLIE EILISH: (Singing) What was I made for? - 'cause I don't know how to feel.

POWERS: This song is very strongly predicted for an Oscar, as well as potentially a Grammy. It's a beautiful song. I was listening to it the other day, and I thought, wow, Barbra Streisand could sing this song. It's just a classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON MY MAMA")

VICTORIA MONET: (Singing) When they say she get it from her momma, I'ma (ph) say you got it right.

POWERS: But honestly, any of these songs, you know, have their strong followings - Victoria Monet, for example, a new nominee in these top categories and also a best new artist nominee. Her "On My Mama" was, like, a total anthem this past year, and I think that also might take it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON MY MAMA")

MONET: (Singing) I put that on my own momma, on my hood. I look fly. I look good. You can't touch my bag - wish you could. I look fly. I look too good. Put that on my own momma.

SHAPIRO: Have you got a personal favorite?

POWERS: Well...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOWERS")

MILEY CYRUS: (Singing) We were good. We were gold.

POWERS: Ari, I am a longtime Miley Cyrus fan, supporter, defender. And I really think it's time for Miley to take...

SHAPIRO: I didn't know that about you.

POWERS: ...This award, and "Flowers" expresses who she is in such a beautiful way. I'm rooting for that one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOWERS")

CYRUS: (Singing) I didn't want to leave you, baby. I didn't want to fight. I started to cry, but then remembered I - I can buy myself flowers, write my name in the sand.

SHAPIRO: Well, record of the year is different from song of the year. Song of the year is specifically for songwriting. Anyone nominated in this category catch your attention?

POWERS: Well, the question is, did the voters go for Lana Del Rey's epic, woozy, slightly crazy "A&W"? I think of that one. It would be sort of like the Beatles' "Revolution 9" winning, you know what I mean? Like, a really weird song winning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A&W")

LANA DEL REY: (Singing) Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff, Jimmy, Jimmy, ride. Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff. Jimmy, get me high. Love me if you love or not. You can be my light. Jimmy only love me when he wants to get high.

POWERS: At the same time, this is the year, the moment, the century of Taylor Swift. And maybe this is the category she takes with "Anti-Hero."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANTI-HERO")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) It's me. Hi. I'm the problem. It's me. At teatime, everybody agrees. I'll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror. It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.

SHAPIRO: We've talked about song and record of the year. The third big award, album of the year, features some of the same names. Who's considered a favorite here?

POWERS: I do think SZA's "SOS" has a strong chance because it was commercially such a juggernaut.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOS")

SZA: (Singing) Give me a second. Give me a minute. Nah, little b**** - can't let you finish. Yeah, that's right. I need commissions on mine.

POWERS: On the top of the charts for months, you know. And it is a classic of new R&B, so I'm rooting for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOS")

SZA: (Singing) This ain't no warning shot, case all you - forgot. Know you been more than lost without me. I'm so - coming back, I'm so greasy. Ex - he so needy - tried to replace me, but the stakes is too high. They can't survive off...

SHAPIRO: Consensus critical favorites don't always line up with Grammy nominations. Why do you think that is, and has that also proven to be the case this year?

POWERS: It's definitely less the case than it used to be. I mean, Ari, you probably remember back in the day when critics supported, you know, indie rock and loud transgressive music, and that stuff rarely got nominated at the Grammys. Now, critics love mainstream pop as much as they love underground sound, so I think it does line up with critical consensus. But at the same time, some things have been overlooked.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGELS IN TIBET")

AMAARAE: (Singing) Bling, bling, bling, bling, bling. I like chains on chains. Bloodstain stained my ring - just a little bump.

POWERS: Amaarae's album "Fountain Baby" was, I think, the best-reviewed album of the year, has made the top of many year-end lists.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGELS IN TIBET")

AMAARAE: (Singing) Fountain baby, wash her, make it wet. Diamonds hit the sweat. Tattoo on her chest, yeah, yeah, yeah. I like when my remedies connect.

POWERS: And Amaarae's is only nominated for her collaboration with Janelle Monae on Monae's album, "The Age Of Pleasure." So there's still a tiny divide between critics and Grammy voters.

SHAPIRO: This is also a year that is dominated by women. What do you make of that?

POWERS: In some ways, popular music belongs to women in the 21st century in general. But we got to look at this year, Ari. It is the year of "Barbie."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE THE NIGHT")

DUA LIPA: (Singing) Watch me dance, dance the night away. My heart could be burning, but you won't see it on my face.

POWERS: Femininity is in. That sounds so shallow, but I feel like there is this sort of general cultural embrace or renewed embrace of all aspects of womanhood and unapologetic femininity. I mean, you know, so many people are rooting for Taylor Swift and her romance with Travis Kelce. There's nothing more conventional than a beautiful blonde and a football player. So not just women, but this idea of womanhood is sort of back in the cultural spotlight.

SHAPIRO: And can we end with a nod to Joni Mitchell, who, remarkably, has never performed at the Grammys before? But that's about to change.

POWERS: Yes. I'm so excited for that. Someone on social media said they were gunning for, you know, kind of a SZA-Joni-Lana collaboration. Maybe on a song like "A Case Of You," that would be awesome. But I'm expecting a version of the Joni Jam with Brandi Carlile by her side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) I've looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow it's cloud illusions that I recall. I really don't know clouds. I don't really know clouds at all.

POWERS: Any appearance by Joni Mitchell in the 2020s is a treasure. She's just a beam of light these days. And I'm looking forward to seeing her in her finery on stage.

SHAPIRO: Ann Powers of NPR Music. Always great to talk to you.

POWERS: Wonderful, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.